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October 27, 2013

VETERANS’ CORNER: Take a good look before undergoing cataract surgery

By JIM VINES

As Vietnam-era military veterans are reaching their 60s and 70s, they are facing the inevitable. Several have undergone surgery and many more will have to do so in the future.

A cataract is an eye disease in which the normally clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy or opaque, causing a decrease in vision. The lens is important for focusing light onto the back of the eye, the retina, so that images appear clear and without distortion and the clouding of this lens during cataract formation distorts the vision.

Cataracts are usually a very gradual process of normal aging but can occasionally develop rapidly. They commonly affect both eyes, but it is not uncommon for a cataract in one eye to advance more rapidly. Precisely why cataracts occur is unknown, however, most cataracts appear to be caused by changes in the protein structures within the lens that occur over many years and cause the lens to become cloudy.

The standard cataract surgical procedure is performed in a hospital or in an ambulatory surgery center on an outpatient basis. The most common form of cataract surgery today involves a process called phacoemulsification.

With the use of an operating microscope, the surgeon will make a very small incision in the surface of the eye in or near the cornea. A thin ultrasound probe, which is often confused with a laser by patients, is inserted into the eye and uses ultrasonic vibrations to dissolve emulsify the clouded lens. These tiny fragmented pieces are then suctioned out through the same ultrasound probe.

Once the cataract is removed, an artificial lens is placed into the thin capsular bag that the cataract previously occupied. This lens is essential in helping the eye focus after surgery. Most cataract surgery is done with only minimal sedation without having to put the patient to sleep. Numbing drops and an injection around the eye will be used to decrease sensation of the eye.

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